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Federal government commits to new public registry of people banned from amateur sport

Pascale St-Onge Pascale St-Onge - The Canadian Press

The Canadian government has instructed a federally funded agency to create, maintain and eventually publish a public list of people who have been banned from amateur sports organizations, sport minister Pascale St-Onge announced Thursday.

The Montreal-based Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada (SDRCC), which adjudicates sports disputes and provides arbitration services, will begin publishing the list within the next year, St-Onge said at a press conference this morning in Ottawa.

“Today's announcement is not a finality,” St-Onge said in a statement. “Rather, I see it as a way to build a foundation on which we can continue to improve and change the culture in the years ahead.”

The merits and risks of such a list have been debated for months within St-Onge’s ministry.

While two people familiar with the matter told TSN there’s a public interest in maintaining a list, there have been concerns about whether coaches who are sanctioned and named might pursue legal action for an alleged violation of their privacy.

Sports organizations are expected to prepare for that possibility by adding a clause to the annual agreement coaches, officials, and athletes sign each year acknowledging that if they are sanctioned after due process, that news would become public, the people said.

Only some national sport organizations (NSOs) have historically made public the names of people who are not allowed to participate in sports. Gymnastics Canada and Athletics Canada, for instance, have maintained public lists. Other larger organizations, such as Hockey Canada and Canada Soccer, have not made such information public.

“The need for a public registry was always top of mind in the creation of the Abuse-Free Sport program,” SDRCC executive director Marie-Claude Asselin wrote TSN in an email. “Without one, individuals could evade consequences of their inappropriate behaviour by moving from one organization to another and inflict further harm on sport participants. We are committed to implementing the public registry in a manner that is compliant with applicable laws in Canada and we are investing resources to achieve this result.”

Asselin wrote that a registry would likely resemble the one maintained by the U.S. Center for SafeSport, an American watchdog for abuse in sports created in 2017 by the U.S. Olympic Committee with the endorsement of the U.S. Congress. 

That registry lists people who have been sanctioned, their sport, the reason for their sanction, and the date they were sanctioned. Since May 1, 2023, 20 individuals have been named to the U.S. registry for offences ranging from sexual misconduct to having an intimate relationship involving a power imbalance.

News of the planned list comes following repeated calls for the government to better safeguard amateur athletes and demand accountability from publicly funded national sport organizations that have allegedly been lax in investigating allegations of abuse and also have kept secret the names of individuals who have been suspended for bad behaviour.

TSN has reported extensively on the issue of abuse in amateur sports ranging from hockey, volleyball, and figure skating to gymnastics, soccer, and water polo.

St-Onge also announced Thursday that NSOs must meet a number of requirements before April 2025 in order to maintain their federal funding.

Athlete representation on boards will be mandatory before that deadline and at least 40 per cent of an NSO’s board members will be required to be independent. No staff member of an NSO will be allowed to sit on its board and no more than 60 per cent of an NSO’s board members will be allowed to be of the same gender. NSOs will be expected to develop policies for diversity on boards and board members will also not be allowed to serve more than nine years.

The annual financial statements of NSOs will be required to be audited and posted on their websites within six months of their year-end. Minutes of board meetings will also be required to be published online. Members of parliament who sit on the federal Heritage Committee have criticized both Hockey Canada and Soccer Canada for poor record keeping related to documenting their board meetings.

“Looking out for athletes’ well-being is my top priority as minister of sport,” St-Onge said. “Sport can’t only be about medals and podiums, and it is why athletes must have a greater voice at all levels of decision-making. The concrete measures I have announced today are part of a long-term shift to turn the tide on a much-needed culture change in sport. The new mandatory requirements will increase the accountability of sport organizations, improve governance practices, and prioritize athlete representation in decision-making structures.”

While a number of former athletes, advocates, and Canada’s former sports minister Kirsty Duncan have called for a national public inquiry examining the issue of abuse in sports, St-Onge has so far refused to take that step.

St-Onge said she is waiting on reports from the Heritage Committee and the Status of Women Committee, both of which have heard testimony related to the subject of abuse in sports.

“To help guide our next steps, I look forward to receiving the reports from the two parliamentary committees that have heard the voices of many across the sport community over the last few months,” St-Onge said.

The government last summer opened the Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner (OSIC) and advised NSOs that their federal funding would be contingent on them becoming OSIC signatories.

Once an NSO signs on with the OSIC, the organization takes over the task of independently screening and investigating abuse allegations involving national team-level athletes in that sport. All NSOs have now signed on to OSIC, St-Onge said.

It’s unclear how provinces will respond to today’s announcement by St-Onge and whether their sports ministries will demand similar transparency and governance reform from provincial sport organizations.